The emergence of astronomy education during the past decade has precipitated establishment of the Astronomy Education Review (http://aer.aip.org), which produces peer-reviewed articles on education research. In addition, the Astronomical Society of the Pacific and the AAS have played increasing roles in bringing together education specialists and college teachers alike.

At the precollege level, exposure to astronomy is largely through informal education and public outreach. Ongoing activities across the country include K-12 educational programs in schools, public astronomy evenings at colleges and universities, and activities coupled to NASA field centers and mission-related science institutes, NSF observatory and technology centers, and public or privately operated museums and planetariums. Efforts such as summer astronomy camps, after-school science activities, and community K-12 programs draw children into science at early ages. Public outreach activities such as lecture evenings, open houses, and star parties held at universities, observatories, and science conferences—and even at the White House (see Figure 4.5)—communicate the latest research developments and convey the excitement of the subject and the wonder of the night sky. The public outreach is impressive: in 2008, the 349 science centers and museums and 1,401 planetariums in the United States served 60.3 million people through onsite and online visits.13

Partnerships between professional research astronomers and professional educators at all levels build an important bridge between the classroom-based and informal education and outreach components of this effort. They can lead to particularly rewarding experiences by bringing first-hand knowledge of astronomical discovery directly to children.14 In addition to the goal of improving national science literacy and proficiency in general, informal astronomy education and outreach activities may also be effective in attracting more minorities and girls into the sciences or science policy, which could help achieve demographic parity at more advanced career stages (Figure 4.7).

Astronomy Serves as a Gateway to New Technology

The long history of astronomy’s contributions to society, and to the larger arena of science and technology, includes such modern examples as extension of the capability for developing experiments in X-ray astronomy for NASA in the 1960s to the manufacture of X-ray inspection systems for airports, military bases, and border

13

Association of Science and Technology Centers (ASTC), 2008 ASTC Sourcebook of Statistics & Analysis, February 2009, available at http://www.astc.org/pubs/source_book08.htm.

14

For example, Project ASTRO, sponsored by the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, has more than 500 educator-astronomer partnerships nationwide that reach more than 20,000 students annually.



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